Interview on Today

JONATHAN UPTIN: The Prime Minister joins me now from Kirribilli House in Sydney. Good morning and welcome home.

PRIME MINISTER: Good morning.

UPTIN: The fires and the drought haven’t snuck up on us. We have known for months this will be a horror summer. The gut instinct of our firefighters echoed it will be a bad summer. Can we trust your gut instincts as leader if your gut told you it was safe to go to Hawaii?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, I suspect Australians are very fair-minded people. They know that whether you are a Prime Minister or anyone else, you juggle the demands of family and I have a young family as Australians know, and the demands of your role and your work that’s as true for a Prime Minister as it is for anyone else and you try and make the best decisions. Where you can think you could have made better decisions you are upfront with the Australian people about that, which I was yesterday. And I know Australians are very fair-minded about those things. These fires have been going on for some time. My first fire visit this year was up to Canungra many months ago back in September. There have been many other visits – Wauchope, Taree, Wilberforce and at various other centres. Yesterday down in Picton and Wollondilly and later today we will be out in central western New South Wales. These fires have been going for some time and they will go for some time yet. But I’ve got to say, the most important visit I made yesterday was to visit Melissa and Jess, Andrew and Geoff’s wives and their families and to spend time with them and the incredible people at the Horsley Park Rural Fire Service Brigade. They are banding together as an incredible family. It was a very moving time yesterday and it is very hard for that family and I was pleased to provide some comfort yesterday on behalf of Jenny and I and obviously when we lost Andrew and Geoff that required me to return to Australia.

UPTIN: You mentioned family there and you said that one of the reasons you gave up those holiday plans was being a father trying to keep a promise to your daughters. Now, it is understandable. Many fathers and mothers, as you know, fighting fires this Christmas – they would have also broken promises to their kids. As you just mentioned, two fathers won’t be coming home for Christmas, not to mention the men and women in our Defence Force, who are soldiers first and parents second. Do you accept the criticism your comments missed the mark?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I was very upfront about that yesterday. I was very clear about my regrets and the apologies I made yesterday. But I also thank the many Australians for their messages of support at the same time and including those I was with yesterday. They understand what the focus needs to be and that is on what’s happening on the firegrounds and the volunteer efforts to support that. But they understand what the role of the Prime Minister is, what a role of the Premier is, of a Fire Commissioner. I mean, these days I could stay in regular contact as I was and obviously returned home after we had the tragic loss of Andrew and Geoff. And Jenny and I felt very strongly about that, that’s why I returned. But Australians are very fair-minded. They understand the complex nature of these things and as we go into Christmas, my thoughts will be very much with Andrew and Geoff’s family. And overnight, yesterday we have learned that we lost another Australian down in South Australia. We’ve got to remember these fires aren’t just happening in New South Wales, they are in South Australia. I have been speaking to the Premier there. I spoke to the Premier in Victoria, I spoke to the Premier there yesterday, Premier Andrews. And of course up in Queensland where they have been raging for some time. So this will go on for some time. Australians obviously have to keep going on with their daily lives as they will. Christmas will come and it will go, and these fires will remain. But there are those directly fighting the fires but I want to assure Australians that the coordinated effort, the resource that goes into our fire services all around the country and the volunteer and paid effort that goes into the broader operations is the best of anywhere in the world. It’s the best of anywhere and it is recognised as that. And one thing is certain about these fires, they have started earlier and they will run longer and there won’t be that dousing we would have normally hoped for with rain. But we have also got a force that is as experienced and as well-resourced and as best-prepared of any that we have seen before going into any disaster season.

UPTIN: Ok. We have been reporting this morning that the debacle has made international news. Are you embarrassed at all how Australia has been seen, particularly your leadership as well?

PRIME MINISTER: No, look, people from outside Australia will make whatever comments they want. I will set Australia’s policies consistent with what I took to the last election and what I believe and my Government believes is in Australia’s national interest…

UPTIN: Sorry to interrupt, but hasn’t that changed a bit? Look, I’m someone who was probably on board with what you took to the polls when you went. I think now, though, that I’m part of a growing groundswell of support of people who think that more needs to be done, now is the time for action. It’s not a time to sit around to keep chatting and saying we will discuss this down the track. Do we need to act now?

PRIME MINISTER: We are acting now. Australia is…

UPTIN: Do we need to do more?

PRIME MINISTER: Australia’s emissions are 50 million tonnes on average lower every year under our Government than the previous government. Emissions have fallen for the last two years. We have got more renewable energy going into our system now than we have seen before. We have the policies and plans to not only meet and beat our Kyoto commitments which fall due next year, but also we will meet and I believe we will be able to beat our Paris commitments as well. Australia is taking action on climate change. What we won’t do is engage in reckless and job-destroying and economy crunching targets which are being sought to be postured to us at the moment, taking advantage of national disasters. Because no Australian would think that the direct policies of any single government in the world is directly linked to any fire event. That’s not true.

UPTIN: Of course.

PRIME MINISTER: And the challenge of climate change has not changed since May. That’s why the actions that we have put forward and we are taking – it’s not a question of whether you take action or don’t, that’s not the question. We are taking action. The question is do you engage in reckless targets which take people’s jobs or do you take the responsible path as we have and as I took to the election to ensure that we do take the appropriate action in Australia’s interests.

UPTIN: Ok. We appreciate you are a very busy man. Will you taking holidays again before the end of the year, very quickly?

PRIME MINISTER: Before the end of 2019? At the moment, if I get to take a few days with the family I will always seek to do that, if I get that opportunity.

UPTIN: Good on you. Make sure you will tell us as well, Prime Minister, won’t you? We will leave it there.

PRIME MINISTER: We’ll follow the proper processes. Happy Christmas to everyone

UPTIN: Happy Christmas to you. We appreciate your time. Prime Minister Scott Morrison, thank you.

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